The medina of Marrakech shows the Moroccan city from its liveliest and most original side. In the diverse souks, the soul of Morocco can be marvelled at, sniffed out and tasted.
The city of Marrakech is located in the southwest of Morocco at the foot of the High Atlas mountain range. Along with Fes, Meknès and Rabat, it is one of the four Moroccan royal cities. The Medina of Marrakech, as the old town is called in many Arab countries, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Marrakech and its medina are an absolute must for every traveller to Morocco. Nowhere else can you experience the exotic atmosphere of the Arabian Nights as authentically as in the narrow, winding streets and colourful markets (souqs) of Marrakech.
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PICTURES: Medina of Marrakech, Morocco
History of Marrakech in a nutshell
The "red city", so called because of its 20km long red walls dating back to 1126, was founded by the Almoravids in 1071. It was once the capital of Morocco and is still the king's favourite city. Its appearance is a wonderful example of the medieval architecture of an Islamic city.
Some historical monuments, such as the ruins of the Abou Bekr Kasbah, the Youssef ben Tachfin Mosque and the Ali ben Youssef Palace, date back to the 11th century. From the mid-12th to the mid-13th century, after their conquest, Marrakech was the national capital under the Almohads, who led Marrakech to wealth and prosperity.
Much of the city wall, the mosque, the palace, the souq, the Tensift Bridge, the hospital and the gardens of Marrakech, Menara and Agdal, which are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites,date from this period. Under the Merenids, the city began to decline, and it was not until the Saadites that Marrakech flourished again in the 16th century. Some of the most beautiful buildings in the medina of Marrakech, such as the Medresa Ben Yussef or the Saadite tombs, date from this period.
Sights of the Medina of Marrakech
A tour of the colourful medina of Marrakech is best done on foot and can be done safely without a guide. It is easy to get lost in the exotic labyrinth of small alleys.
Some orientation is provided by the large main street and the 77m-high minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque from the mid-12th century, which towers far above the rooftops of Marrakech and is still considered a landmark of the city. It is located in the southern part of the medina of Marrakech. Unfortunately, the mosque itself may not be entered by non-Muslims.
Dar el-Glaoui Palace
In the north of the medina is the Dar el-Glaoui Palace, where the Pasha of Marrakech once resided. It is partially open to tourists.
Koranic School Medresa Ben Yussef
Also to be visited are the former Koranic school, the Medresa Ben Yussef with its wonderful inner courtyard and extensive foundation walls of the former palace El Badi, where storks nest today.
Just like the present-day appearance of the Ben Youssef Madresa, the ornate Saadite tombs date back to the reign of the Merenids. They are among the most beautiful examples of Islamic architecture. The hall of the twelve columns with its magnificent tile patterns and cedar wood carvings is particularly worth seeing. The Saadite tombs are best visited in the morning or evening to avoid the queues.
The oldest house in the medina of Marrakech, the Dar Chérifa has been renovated according to old traditions and now functions as a meeting place for writers and artists. There is a café on the second floor and readings, exhibitions, painting and cooking courses are held regularly.
Djemaa el-Fna - The Square of the Decapitated
The Djemaa el-Fna is the central square in the medina of Marrakech. This is where the real life of the medina takes place - seen in a tourist way. During the day, the Djemaa el-Fna is populated by all kinds of jugglers, snake charmers and fruit sellers.
In the late afternoon, there are also cookshops offering excellent Moroccan cuisine at reasonable prices. The darker it gets, the more life emerges on Djemaa el-Fna. In the evening, musicians and storytellers perform. The best thing to do is to find a place in one of the cafés or on one of the roof terraces and get an overview of the interesting chaos.
Tip. Some locals may offer to take photos of you. Afterwards, however, they will ask for money, which is often much more than pocket money. If you want a photo, agree on the price beforehand - or stick to the selfie to be on the safe side.
Marrakech - City of Gardens
In the north of the city lies probably the most beautiful garden in Marrakech, the Jardin Majorelle. It was created in 1947 by a French painter and later expanded by the famous fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. Here you can admire plants from all five continents of the world.
Other gardens are the Menara Garden and the Agdal Gardenboth of which date back to the reign of the Almohads and are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Also interesting is the newly created Cyber Park near the Djemaa el-Fna, where you can surf the internet via wi-fi under shady trees.
Arab souqs - the soul of Marrakech
No matter how winding the streets of Marrakech are, there is one thing you can't miss: the souqs of Marrakech. Nowhere else in Morocco are the markets so extensive, diverse, colourful and full of smells. The entrance to the souqs is on Djemaa el-Fna square. Somewhat hidden behind a café, the richly decorated main portal to the markets of Marrakech rises up.
The best time to walk through a souq is in the morning and early afternoon, when the guided tourist groups are still having breakfast or lunch. Then you experience the soul of Marrakech from its most original side.
Feast of the Senses at the Souq of Marrakech
A veritable feast for the senses awaits the amazed stroller in the souqs of Marrakech. Thousands of baskets of spices in every imaginable colour, beautifully decorated fruit, the finest handicrafts and the play of the sun's rays between the countless roofs paint a fantastic painting of colours, scents and sounds.
You can hardly miss the iron and coppersmiths' alley because of the loud hammering, and if you follow the colourful fabrics hanging between the stalls, you will inevitably reach the dyers' alley. Here, the leather workers are usually not far away, where you can buy handmade belts, bags and shoes for direct sale.
By the way, it is only louder than at the blacksmiths' in the street of the carpet sellers, who auction off their precious goods at the top of their voices.
Tip: If you are afraid of falling for a fake in the "normal" art markets of Marrakech, you should visit the "Complex d'Artisanat". It is located near the Djemaa el-Fna and offers only the finest Moroccan art. Haggling is not possible, credit cards of all kinds are accepted and the goods are shipped all over the world on request. Even if you don't want to buy anything, a tour of this fantastic art market is highly recommended.
Riad instead of hotel
Of several nights in Marrakech, one should be spent outside the hotel in a traditional riad, if possible. These are Moroccan houses in the heart of the medina. Inside these small city dwellings with their colourfully whitewashed rooms, it is pleasantly quiet and the sounds of the street can be completely shut out.
The hospitable Moroccans provide a pure oriental feeling with discreet service and exquisite local menus. You've never been closer to the fairytales of the Arabian Nights!
Experience Marrakech the right way
- The souks of Marrakech should be visited twice. On the first visit, you can safely let yourself be overwhelmed by the rich offer and the diverse impressions and drift along the main alleys. On the second visit, you can devote yourself to the side streets with their hidden shops and workshops.
- The courage to deviate from the general stream of tourists is rewarded in the richest way. Or you can enjoy an Arabic coffee on a corner and enjoy the colourful hustle and bustle around you.
- The souq at Bab Ailen is the market of the locals in Marrakech. Here you can stroll through fish, meat, vegetable and fruit stalls in the midst of the Moroccan population in peace and quiet, without tourist influences, and soak up the true appearance of Marrakech without any disturbing noise.
- Next to the medina, Gueliz is the second part of Marrakech's city centre. Here you will find mainly tourist facilities such as hotels, restaurants and bars.